Part 2. Getting Consumers in on the Action
“I have nothing against diamonds (or rubies or emeralds or sapphires). Gems are beautiful and desirable. To buy or not to buy is an individual decision. But is has to be an informed decision. … I find it unconscionable that the resources of the third world would be exploited for the sake of our vanity, and above all that billions of dollars of corporate profit are built on the backs of workers paid a dollar a day.” – Edward Zwick, Director of Blood Diamond (Amnesty International, 2006)
Drawing links between the thoughtful gifts bought for loved ones, and environmental degradation, human suffering, and death is not something that many consumers enjoy being confronted with. Diamonds and gold are some of the worst offenders. The production and/or extraction and processing of these “symbols of love” have caused and continue to cause immense public health, human rights and environmental consequences (Donahoe, 2008). ‘Conflict diamonds’ have been used by rebel armies to pay for weapons that have killed tens of thousands of people during civil wars in Sub-Saharan Africa. Diamond’s riches largely allude the millions of actual ‘diggers’ and ‘miners’ in developing countries, and foreign “middlemen, diamond dealers, and exporters earn the lion’s share of mining income” (Donahoe, 2008, p. 170) while arguably giving little back to the host country besides environmental damage, forced resettlement, and human rights violations. The same (and much worst) has been said about gold mining. Gold extraction has been linked to many worker deaths, union-busting, human rights abuses pollution, loss of traditional livelihoods, long-term economic problems, and deteriorating public health in local communities (Donahoe, 2008).
How can all this knowledge be translated into the adoption of better, more responsible resource extraction that is known to be technically and economically feasible? The problems are complex and so are the solutions. Legally mandated impact assessment is one way to use this knowledge to inform and influence development related decision making. But this also involves changing the behaviour of powerful corporations with powerful pocketbooks. Targeting consumers is another way to bring about change by urging people to be responsible and informed, and to ‘vote-with-their-wallets’.
‘No Dirty Gold‘ is an international campaign that attempts to raise awareness of the environmental, social, health, and human rights impacts of irresponsible gold mining. It’s goal is to create a gold mining sector that respects communities, workers, and the environment by educating and influencing consumers, retailers and manufacturers, so in turn they will help to influence mining companies to reform ways in which they extract and produce metals. No Dirty Gold employs a variety of knowledge translation (KT) techniques from the IDRC toolkit – social marketing ads mimicking the ads of the World Gold Council (see ads below); storytelling; consumer education through online fact sheets and twitter; and publications – to spread their message and try to bring change (No Dirty Gold, 2013). Edutainment has also been used to raise awareness among consumers of the externalities of their obsessions with bling. Two recent Hollywood blockbusters, Blood Diamond and Avatar, are good examples, the former of which had official support from Amnesty International.
As a researcher and a consumer, I want to learn. Are consumer awareness campaigns like the ones described effective in influencing corporations’ behaviour? What kinds of behaviour change techniques are most useful when attempting to change consumer behaviour in relation to products that do not harm or improve their own health or local environment? Products whose value is heavily based on culture and tradition as well as their ability to confer status? I personally do not desire to buy and/or own diamond and gold jewelry but I do desire to travel in a highly polluting fashion. Do jewellery owners ignore the ‘externalities’ of their purchases in the same way I ignore the environmental impact of my flight record?
Amnesty International. Companion Curriculum to Blood Diamond. 2006. URL: http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/bd_curriculumguide_0.pdf Accessed November 19, 2013.
Donahoe, M. Flowers, Diamonds, and Gold: The destructive public health, human rights, and environmental consequences of symbols of love. Human Rights Quarterly, 2008, 30(1):164-182.
No Dirty Gold. The No Dirty Gold Campaign. URL: http://nodirtygold.earthworksaction.org/about_us#.UorjGhZwo20 Accessed November 18, 2013.